THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court delayed Thursday the start of the trial of two prominent Kenyans, including a leading presidential candidate, from April until July after defense lawyers complained of delayed disclosure of evidence and late changes to the prosecution's case.
The postponement means that Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, who is leading in the slow count of votes from Monday's elections in Kenya, now faces a provisional trial start date of July 9 on charges of organizing violence after the country's disputed 2007 elections. The violence left more than 1,000 people dead.
The announcement came at a time of high tensions in Kenya as the political coalition led by Kenyatta's main rival for the presidency, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, said the vote tallying process "lacks integrity" and should be stopped.
Court spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said the timing of the announcement during the tense vote count was a coincidence.
"It is not linked to a political calendar, it is only linked to judicial developments," El Abdallah told The Associated Press.
Kenyatta and Cabinet secretary Francis Muthaura stand accused of crimes against humanity for alleged involvement in the murder, forcible deportation, persecution and rape of supporters of Odinga in the aftermath of the 2007 vote.
Both men deny the charges.
Prosecutors had said they did not object to a delay in the trial date.
In thier written ruling Thursday, judges cited delays by prosecutors in sharing evidence with defense lawyers and requests by lawyers for Kenyatta and Muthaura to send the entire case back to a pretrial hearing to establish whether evidence is strong enough to merit a trial. Those requests came after a key prosecution witness admitted lying and he was dropped from the case.
Judges wrote that the request for a new review of evidence, "raise very serious issues that must be resolved before the trial can proceed."
Lawyers for two other suspects, former education minister William Ruto and broadcaster Joshua Arap Sang, accused with involvement in attacks on different groups after the 2007 election, have also sought a delay to the scheduled April 10 start of their trial, but no decision has been made on that request.
In a strange political twist, Ruto is now Kenyatta's running mate.
The court launched an investigation in 2010 only after Kenya's parliament failed to agree to set up a national tribunal to prosecute perpetrators of postelection violence.